We love food tours, especially those who let us touch the spirit of a place. Like the Devour Barcelona Food Tour we took recently. So, in this post we’ve tried something different, and imagined being Gràcia locals for one day.
We love Barcelona. It’s definitely up there in our top 5 favourite cities, and I’m finding myself daydreaming of living there more and more often. And if I were to choose where to live, I’d definitely pick Gràcia. It has everything the perfect neighbourhood needs – a central location, a community feel, great shops and some wonderful squares.
So, when we got the chance to join a food tour around the area during our recent visit to the city, we jumped at the chance. We spent a wonderful morning touring the streets of Gràcia, tasting delicious food and learning stories about the neighbourhood. It was easy to get carried away by my over-active imagination and pretending to be a local for one day. So, here it is – a Gràcia story, inspired by Devour Barcelona Food Tours, and the Barcelona locals and lovers we’ve met during our travels around Catalunya and beyond.
A day in the life of a Gràcia local
My name is Gemma, and I have lived in Gràcia pretty much all my life. I moved out to El Born for a while, and spent some years studying in France, but most of my life has been spent here, in the tangle of streets between Via Augusta, Carrer Corsega and Travessera de Dalt.
Not many people know that until the 20 century Gràcia used to be a village. Barcelona was further south, what is now the historic centre. Gràcia was a sleepy country village, and grand Passeig de Gràcia with its luxury shops and Gaudi mansions was a country road, dusty and windswept, taking horse carts to Gràcia and the country beyond.
During the Twentieth century, the city grew year after year, extending along the coast and all the way to the mountains north of the city. The famous Eixample district was built at the turn of the century, surrounding Gràcia and turning the village into the centre of Barcelona.
But luckily, it still feels like a village. We have our own fiestas, our own history and tradition, our characters and shops that have been there for generations. If you walk around Gràcia’s streets, you’ll forget you’re in the heart of one of Europe’s busiest cities.
I work in a candle factory just outside of town, making decorated candles by hand. My fiancé Romul works as a personal trainer and physiotherapist at a sports centre, and we love travelling at the weekend. Hiking is one of our favourite activities and we often drive up to the Pyrenees. But every now and then, we’re so lazy we just hang around Gràcia for the whole day.
Whoever wakes up first has the job of going out and getting fresh croissants for breakfast. There are loads of bakeries around Gràcia, but most of them make medialunas with sticky sugar syrup on top, and I don’t like them!
The best place to get croissants is Baluard Bakery, a couple of blocks from La Pedrera. It’s kind of fancy and probably not the cheapest around, but the almond croissants are delicious.
The first branch was opened a few years ago in Barceloneta, with a wood-burning bread oven instead of the regular electric ones. No one expected it to be successful, especially in this period of crisis. But I think the crisis is what helped Baluard succeed. During hard times, we long to go back to the past. We long for simple, honest flavours. We find satisfaction in the small things – a bite of bread baked in a wood-fired oven, crusty outside and soft inside, with that faint smoky aftertaste. A buttery, crispy croissant. Or one of my homemade candles.
Gràcia – the best Barcelona food
Every Saturday if we’re in town, Romul and I go shopping at Mercat de l’Abaceria, Gràcia’s local market. Every district in Barcelona has one – no doubt you’ll know Mercat de la Boqueria, just off the Ramblas. Our market here in Gràcia is a lot quieter and has a very ‘local’ feel. Some stallholders have been there for generations. I used to come here with my parents, as a little girl, and run around the stalls. Friendly sellers sometimes offered me a sample; a slice of fuet, our thin Catalan sausage, or a skewer with olives and other goodies, Josep the olive man’s invention.
Romul and I usually buy some special treats. Maybe some fish, or some cheese from Conchita’s stall. My favourite is idiazabal, a Basque cheese with a smoky taste, but Romul prefers aged manchego, so we usually get one of each!
On the way home, we stop for a snack. That’s where we are spoilt for choice in Gràcia. There are so many hole-in-the-wall tapas bars, one more delicious than the other. Forget the bland patatas bravas or the limp pan amb tomaquet you get in the centre!
We might head over to Cafe Pages for a grilled botifarra sandwich, a crispy breadroll with a local sausage and a grilled pepper. Or we might stop somewhere with seats outside for a bomba, Barcelona’s favourite tapa; a potato ball stuffed with minced beef, fried and served with brava sauce and ali oli. A bomb indeed.
The history of Gràcia
One of the best things about Gràcia are its beautiful squares. We’re blessed to have wonderful weather; even in January, and the sun shines year round. My favourite square is Plaça de la Virreina, in the heart of the neighbourhood.
The ‘virreina’ was a young girl, who in the 1700 was forced to marry an old fellow who was a viceroy. She didn’t want to marry him, and hated him and her family for making her do so. He built her a mansion where the square now stands, and when he died a few years later, she took revenge by squandering his fortune. She was very generous with his money, and often gave to the poor and needy. So, when the ‘virreina’ died, the city tore down the palace and built the square, naming it after her.
But Plaça de la Virreina is not the real heart of Gràcia. That would be Plaça de la Vila, famous for its giant clock tower. The women of Gràcia organized a revolt in the square in the 1870s, to protest against the corrupt legal system that favoured the rich. It is said that the clock tower bell rang for 5 days straight. In response, the Spanish decided to bomb the village of Gràcia, using the clock tower in this square as a target.
Nowadays, the square is where the Fiestas de Gràcia take place in August. The fiesta is always announced by the giants and the capgrosos (big heads), grotesque papier maché characters. I was terrified of the capgrosos as a child, and buried my head in my mum’s lap every time they paraded past our home. But I loved the correfocs, and dreamed to be allowed to run around twirling firecrackers on a stick.
At 1pm, Romul and I meet our friends at one of Gràcia’s vermut bars. It’s a ritual for us. Every Saturday, if we’re not off hiking somewhere, we’ll go to Cal Pep or one of the other old-timer bars, and down a glass of vermut with boquerones and stuffed olives on the side.
I love how Cal Pep never changed at all, in all the years I’ve been going there. I remember when my grandfather used to take me there after shopping at the market on Saturday mornings. I remember the dusty bottles and faded photographs, and the same guys sitting around the tables, week after week, smoking filterless cigarettes. Twenty years later, it’s still the same. The only difference is that smoking is now forbidden inside, and my grandfather’s gone.
By the time we finish our vermut and head off, it’s getting close to lunchtime. Sometimes we stop at one of the cooked bean shops, another typical Barcelona establishment. They opened at the turn of the century to cater to women working in factories, offering them an affordable and nutritious lunch. Many have survived and now sell more delicacies besides cooked beans. Our favourite is tiny La Botiqueta del Bon Menjar, that makes the best albondigas in the world.
If I had to choose my favourite shop in the whole of Gràcia, you might be surprised by my answer. It’s not a tiny tapas bar, a bakery or a market stall, a vermut bar or a cava joint. It’s actually a Syrian sweet shop, Pastisseria Principe. Mustafa has been making trays of sweets, dainty and elegant like jewels, for 37 years. I walk past his shop every single day on my way to work and he’s always there, behind the counter, with his immaculate apron and bushy moustache.
I think I love Mustafa’s shop so much because it represents Gràcia to me. The neighbourhood is welcoming and friendly, and throughout the years it has become the home of many people from all over the world. They have brought their history, culture and traditions, and have become part of Gràcia, of its life, of its streets.
Flying to Barcelona
If you’re thinking of going to Barcelona, ditch the usual suspect low cost airlines and head directly to the Vueling website. This airline offers great service at low-cost prices. Forget grumpy staff and hidden charges – Vueling’s website is easy to navigate and you’ll have no nasty surprises once it’s time to pay. And did I mention my favourite thing about the airline? Inflight magazine Ling, so interesting and full of alternative tips and destinations it gave us loads of ideas for future trips!
Given that Vueling’s main hub is Barcelona, you can fly with Vueling to Barcelona from most major cities in Europe and beyond. Vueling’s flights also include medium-haul destinations such as Dakar, Yerevan and Beirut. So, you can fly pretty much anywhere you want with a stop over in Barcelona – can you think of a better place to break up a journey?
I can’t stop dreaming of a trip to Senegal with a stop in Barcelona, who’s with me?
Staying in Barcelona
We stayed in a beautiful apartment near the Sagrada Familia (and a short walk from Gràcia!) booked through OK Apartment. We enjoy staying at apartments more and more recently, especially when they are as pretty as this one!
It’s a good way to feel like a local for a few days. Like Gemma and Romul in the story, we shopped at markets, got loads of delicious food and spent a night cooking delicious foods from Spain (a pretty bad tortilla, FYI), eating and drinking artisan beer. A night of fun that definitely didn’t break the bank, unlike bar-hopping in town!
Location of the apartment was perfect, a short walk away from 3 different metro stations, and the place has everything a traveller can ask for, including extras such as DVDs to watch and some great music. We definitely recommend staying there again – OK Apartments have several properties around Barcelona, but if you can, ask for their Sagrada Familia apartment!
Our Barcelona trip was in partnership with OK Apartment, Vueling and Devour Barcelona Food Tours. All opinions are our own.
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